Sibling Rivalry, Why It Happens?

Sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy is to some degree normal and healthy. Learning to co-exist with siblings can teach children some valuable lessons about relationships in the greater world outside of the home.

Many parents will report that when the second baby came along there was an increase in negative behaviour from the first child. If this is well managed by the parents, ie that the older child gets some special attention, as well as the consistent attention they were used to, the situation will often calm down after a couple of months.

Sibling rivalry and jealousy becomes a problem when it shows itself at a later stage, either in primary or high school. If this is not addressed adequately at this point, it could escalate and lead to more serious problems later in life with one or all siblings.

Showing More Attention To One Child

There can be many reasons why siblings will compete against each other to a degree which is problematic. The first thought that comes to mind is that sometimes one or both parents overtly show more attention to one child. They might not even realise they are doing this. This could be because the child is a high achiever in one area which results in lots of affirmation from parents. Also, this situation could lead to more time being spent with this child, especially if parents have to transport them to the activity, eg a certain sport.

The other child or children then get less of the parents time but maybe also less attention. It is very hard when one sibling is talented and the rest are somewhat average. It becomes a real challenge for parents to find value in each child and be consistent in affirming this. Every kid is good at something, our job as parents is to value this, even if the skill is something less obvious.

Another scenario that can cause jealousy and resentment is when there is a child with special needs in the family. They may have a chronic illness or some other disability so naturally a greater proportion of parental time is taken up with this child. The healthy children, who might in fact be thriving, can feel very jealous and angry towards the special child. This can often be a very real and difficult situation in a family.

Give Each Child What They Uniquely Need

The message here is that parents need to be aware of the differing needs of their children and try to ensure giving each child what they uniquely need. So sometimes different rules and norms for different children in a family are appropriate. Just like clients in a psychotherapy practice, each child needs something different.

It is parents who elect to bring children into their world and it is the parents who are responsible for the emotional tone in the home. If the family is a relatively functional one, and the parents present as a united front, you will most likely find less rivalry and jealousy. If the parent’s relationship is volatile then it is really hard to find the emotional space to consider the effects on the children or to give each child the attention they deserve.

Ask For Help

So what is the answer if sibling rivalry and sibling jealousy is destroying harmony in the home? Simply, ask for help! Sometimes it can be as easy as approaching the school counsellor. If this is not an option you might need to seek help privately.

At Zetland Psychotherapy this issue would be thoroughly assessed in order to understand the different elements of the problem. This could involve sessions with the parents, maybe separate sessions with the children or perhaps family therapy where the whole family attends the session.

It is important to try to address these issues as soon as possible. To grow up alienated from your siblings is to miss out on the wonderful relationships that become part of your extended family in adulthood.  Ideally families should try to remain connected as children grow up and parents age. The joy of feeling part of a loving and supportive family can never be over rated. Healthy families form the cornerstone of a healthy society.